Arthur W. Pink
Chapter 1 - Introduction
In previous volumes we have expounded at some length (though not in this precise order) the great truths of Divine Election or Predestination unto salvation; the Atonement or perfect Satisfaction which Christ rendered unto the Law on behalf of His people; fallen man’s total impotency unto good; the miracle of Regeneration, whereby the elect (who are born into this world dead in trespasses and sins) are quickened into newness of life; Justification by faith, whereby the believing sinner is delivered from the curse of the Law, the righteousness of Christ being reckoned to his account; the believer’s Sanctification, whereby he is set apart unto God, constituted a temple of the Holy Spirit, delivered from the reigning power of sin, and made meet for Heaven. It is therefore fitting that we should now take up the complementary and completing truth of the final perseverance of the saints, or the infrustrable certainty of their entrance into the Inheritance purchased for them by Christ and unto which they have been begotten by the Spirit.
This blessed subject has been an occasion for fierce strife in the theological world, and nowhere is the breach between Calvinists and Arminians more apparent than in their diverse views of this doctrine. The former regard it as the very salt of the covenant, as one of the principal mercies purchased by the redemption of Christ, as one of the richest jewels which adorns the Gospel’s crown, as one of the choicest cordials for the reviving of fainting saints, as one of the greatest incentives to practical holiness. But with the latter it is the very reverse. Arminians regard this doctrine as an invention of the Devil, as highly dishonoring to God, as a poisoning of the Gospel fountain, as giving license to self-indulgence and being subversive of all real piety. In this instance it is impossible to seek a golden mean between two extremes, for one party must be extremely right and the other extremely wrong.
While we have no doubt whatever in which of those two camps the truth is to be found, yet we are far from allowing that Calvinists have always presented this doctrine in its Scriptural proportions; yea it is our firm conviction that during the last two or three generations especially it has been dealt with by many novices in such a manner as to do far more evil than good. Large numbers of men have contended for the "Security of the Saints" in such a crude and lopsided way that not a few godly souls were stumbled, and in their revolt against such extremism supposed their only safeguard was to reject the whole subject in toto. Such a course was wrong: if some amateur would-be-bakers turn out uneatable loaves, that is no reason why I should henceforth decline all bread—I should be the loser if I acted so radically.
We have no sympathy whatever with the bald and unqualified declaration "Once saved always saved." In a publication issued by a widely-known "Bible Institute" appears the following. "I went to the death cell of that condemned man in prison a few days ago. I went to tell him of a pardon from my King. I had no right to offer him a pardon from the state . . . but I could tell him of the One who took his place on Calvary’s cross, offering eternal redemption from the penalty of sin, so that he could be justified before the ‘Judge of all the earth’ in the court of heaven, for all the endless ages. Thank God! I found that man clear on the plan of salvation, for years ago under the ministry of he had accepted Jesus as his personal Savior. But through the years he had grown cold and indifferent: he had lost his fellowship with his Lord, not his salvation. And the result was a life of sin. It took an awful experience to turn him from his self-willed way; but as I talked with him in his prison cell, I was convinced that he was born again and repentant for his crime."
While it lies entirely outside our province to form any judgment as to the eternal destiny of that murderer, yet a few comments on the preacher’s account of the above incident seem to be called for. What impression is likely to be made on the mind of the average light-headed professor by the reading of such a case? What effect is it calculated to produce upon those church members who are walking arm in arm with the world? First, we are told that this murderer was "clear on the plan of salvation": so also is the Devil, but what does such mental knowledge avail him! Next it is said that years before this condemned man "had accepted Jesus as his personal Savior" under the ministry of a certain well-known "Revivalist." But before any soul can receive Christ as Savior, he must first throw down the weapons of his rebellion, repent of his sins, and surrender to Christ as Lord.
The Savior is the Holy One of God, who saves His people "from their sins" (Matt. 1:2 1) and not in their sins: who saves them from the love and dominion of their sins. How different was the preaching of Spurgeon from that of the cheapjack "evangelists" who have followed him. Said he, "Go not to God and ask for mercy with sin in thy hand. What would you think of the rebel who appeared before the face of his sovereign and asked for pardon with the dagger sticking in his belt and with the declaration of his rebellion on his breast? Surely he would deserve double doom for thus mocking his monarch while he pretended to be seeking mercy. If a wife has forsaken her husband do you think she would have the impudence, with brazen forehead, to come back and ask his pardon leaning on the arm of her paramour? Yet so it is with you—perhaps asking for mercy and going on in sin—praying to be reconciled to God and yet harboring and indulging your lusts. . . cast away your sin or He cannot hear you. If you lift up unholy hands with a lie in your right hand, prayer is worthless on your lips" (C.H.S., 1860).
Returning to the above incident. This preacher declares of the man in the condemned cell, "But through the years he had grown cold and indifferent: he had lost his fellowship with his Lord, not his salvation, and the result was a life of sin." Such a statement is a flat contradiction in terms. Salvation and sin are opposites. "If any man be in Christ he is a new creature: old things are passed away, behold all things are become new" (2 Cor. 5:17). Divine salvation is a supernatural work which produces supernatural effects. It is a miracle of grace which causes the wilderness to blossom as the rose. It is known by its fruits. It is a lie to call a tree good if it bears evil fruit. Justification is evidenced by sanctification. The new birth is made manifest by a new life. Where one makes a profession of being saved and then follows it with "a life of sin" it is a case of "the dog turning again to his vomit and the washed sow to her wallowing in the mire" (2 Pet. 2:22).
Before dismissing this case a word should be said upon the preacher’s statement "I could tell him of the One who took his place on Calvary’s cross" which occurs, be it noted, at the beginning of the narrative. Surely the first thing to press upon a murderer would be the awfulness of his condition: to remind him that he had not only grievously wronged a fellow-creature, but had sinned against the Holy One; to faithfully set before him the solemn fact that in a few days he would have to appear before the Divine Judge. Then he could speak of the amazing grace of God which had provided a Savior for sinners, even the very chief of sinners, and that He is freely offered to all by the Gospel, on the terms of repentance and faith. But the Scriptures nowhere warrant us to tell any indifferent, impenitent sinner that Christ ‘took his place on the cross": the substitutionary work of Christ is a truth for the comfort of believers and not a sop for unbelievers. 0 the ignorance and confusion now obtaining in Christendom.
In the N. T. the salvation of God is presented under three tenses: past, present and future. As a work "begun" (Phil. 1:6), but not completed in a moment of time. "Who hath saved us" (2 Tim. 1:9), "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" (Phil. 2:12), "now is our salvation nearer than when we believed" (Rom. 13:11). These verses do not refer to three different salvations, but to three distinct phases and stages of salvation: salvation as an accomplished fact, as a present process, and as a future prospect. First, God saves from the pleasure of sin, causing the heart to loathe what it formerly loved. That which is displeasing to God is made bitter to the soul, and sin becomes its greatest grief and burden. Next, faith is communicated by the Spirit and the penitent sinner is enabled to believe the Gospel, and thereby he is saved from the penalty of sin. Then it is he enters upon the Christian life, wherein he is called upon to "fight the good fight of faith", for there are enemies both within and without which seek to bring about his destruction.
For that "fight" God has provided adequate armor (Eph. 6:11), which the Christian is bidden to take unto himself. For that fight he is furnished with effective weapons, but these he must make good use of. For that fight spiritual strength is available (2 Tim. 2:1), yet it has to be diligently and trustfully sought. It is in this fight, a lifelong process, a conflict in which no furloughs are granted, the Christian is being saved from the power of sin. In it he receives many wounds, but he betakes himself to the great Physician for healing. In it he is often cast down, but by grace he is enabled to rise again. Finally, he shall be saved from the presence of sin, for at death the believer is for ever rid of his evil nature.
Now it is that third aspect of salvation which concerns us in this present series of articles, namely, the believer’s perseverance: his perseverance in the fight of faith. The doctrine which is to be before us relates to the Christian’s being saved from the power of indwelling sin during the interval which elapses between his being saved from its penalty and the moment when he will be saved from its presence. Between his being saved from Hell and his actual entrance into Heaven he needs saving from himself, saving from this evil world in which he is still left, saving from the devil who as a roaring lion goes about seeking whom he may devour. The journey from Egypt to Canaan lies not for the most part through green pastures and by the still waters but across an arid desert with all its trials and testings, and few who left that House of Bondage reached the Land of milk and honey: the great majority fell in the wilderness through their unbelief—types of numerous professors who begin well but fail to endure unto the end. There are multitudes in Christendom to-day deluded with the idea that a mere historical faith in the Gospel ensures their reaching Heaven: who verily suppose they have "received Christ as their personal Savior" simply because they believe that He died on the cross as an atoning sacrifice for the sins of all those who repudiate their own righteousness and trust in Him. They imagine that if under the influence of religious emotion and the pressing appeals of an evangelist, and assured that "John 3:16 means what it says", they were persuaded to "become Christians", that therefore all is now well with them: that having obtained a ticket for Glory they may, like passengers on a train, relax and go to sleep, confident that in due time they shall arrive at their desired destination. By such deceptions Satan chloroforms myriads into Hell. So widespread is this deadly delusion that one who undertakes to expose its sophistry is certain to be regarded by many as a heretic.
The Christian life commences amid the throes of the new birth, under acute travail of soul. When the Spirit of God begins His work in the heart conscience is convicted, the terrors of the Law are felt, the wrath of a sin-hating God becomes real. As the requirements of Divine holiness begin to be apprehended the soul, so long accustomed to having its own way, "kicks against the pricks," and only in the day of God’s power is it "made willing" (Psa. 110:3) to take the yoke of Christ upon it. And then it is that the young believer, conscious of the plague of his own heart, fearful of his own weakness and instability, aware of the enmity of the Devil against him, anxiously cries out, How shall I be able to keep from drowning in such a world as this? what provision has God made that I shall not perish on my way to everlasting bliss? The Lord has done great things for me, whereof I am glad; but unless He continues to exert His sovereign power on my behalf, I shall be lost.
Moreover, as the young Christian holds on his way he observes how many of those who took up a Christian profession walk no more in the paths of righteousness, having returned to the world. This stumbles him and makes him ask, Shall I also make shipwreck of the faith? Ah, none stand more sure and safe than those who feel they cannot stand, whose cry is "Hold Thou me up, and I shall be safe" (Psa. 119:117). "Happy is the man who feareth always" (Prov. 28:14). Happy the soul who is possessed of that holy fear which drives him to the Lord, keeps him vile in his own eyes and causes him to ever depend upon the promise and grace of a faithful God, which makes him rejoice with trembling, and tremble with hope.
In the case which we have just supposed—and it is one which is true to life—we discover an additional reason for taking up the present subject. It is necessary that the young and fearing Christian should be further strengthened in the faith, that he should be informed the good Shepherd does not leave His lambs undefended in the midst of wolves, that full provision is made for their safety. Yet it is at this stage especially that heavenly wisdom is needed by the instructor if he is to be of real help. On the one hand he must be careful not to cast pearls before swine, and on the other he must not be deterred from giving to the children of God their rightful and needful Bread. If he must be on his guard against ministering unlawful comfort to carnal professors, he must also see to it that legitimate comforts and cordials are not withheld from saints with feeble knees and whose hands hang down because of their discouragements.
Each of the dangers we have alluded to will be avoided by due attention unto the terms of our theme and an amplification thereof. It is the final perseverance of the saints we shall write about, the enduring of those who have been washed in the blood of the Lamb and not those who have been whitewashed by self-reformation. It is the final perseverance of saints along the Narrow Way, along the paths of righteousness. It is their perseverance in the fight of faith and the performance of obedience. The Word of God nowhere teaches that once a man is born again he may give free rein to the lusts of the flesh and be as worldly as he pleases, yet still be sure of getting to Heaven. Instead, Scripture says, and the words are addressed to believers, "For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die" (Rom. 8:13). No, if a man is born again he will desire, purpose and endeavor to live as becometh a child of God.
There has been some deliberation in our mind as to which is the better title for this doctrine: the preservation or the perseverance of the saints. At first sight the former seems preferable, as being more honoring to God, throwing the emphasis on His keeping power. Yet further reflection will show that such preferableness is more seeming than real. We prefer the latter because rightly understood it includes the former, while at the same time pressing the believer’s responsibility. Moreover, we believe, it to be more in accord with the general tenor of Scripture. The saints are "kept by the power of God through faith" (1 Pet. 1:5). He does not deal with them as unaccountable automatons, but as moral agents, just as their natural life is maintained through their use of means and by their avoidance of that which is inimical to their wellbeing, so it is with the maintenance and preservation of their spiritual lives.
God preserves His people in this world through their perseverance—their use of means and avoidance of what is destructive. We do not mean for a moment that the everlasting purpose of the Most High is made contingent on the actions of the creature. The saints’ perseverance is a Divine gift, as truly as is health and strength of body. The two sides of this truth, the Divine and the human, are brought together in "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure" (Phil. 2:12, 13): it is God who works in the believer both the desire and performance in using the means, so that all ground for boasting is removed from him. When God begins His work of grace in a soul the heart then turns to Him in penitence and faith, and as He continues that work the soul is kept in the exercise of its graces. As we seek to unfold this theme our emphasis will change from time to time according as we have before us those who repudiate it and those who pervert it—when we shall treat of the Divine foundations on which it rests or the safeguards by which it is protected. O for wisdom to steer clear of both Arminianism and Antinomianism.